Electric-car start-up Fisker Automotive has halted sales of its Karma sedan and recalled those sold so far to update its software controls. How will the company attempt to soothe owners upset by yet another glitch and years of delays? By having company founder Henrik Fisker call each one and apologize personally.
It's the second time Fisker, the recipient of a $529 million federal loan, has recalled its cars for a defect in the two months since the $97,000 plug-in hybrid went on sale. The previous recall involved replacing the entire battery pack in 239 Karmas due to a potential electrical short. While Fisker says the new recall isn't a safety issue, it does require owners to take their cars back for service again for a few hours.
The software update comes after several Karma owners reported a series of electronic gremlins, from random check-engine lights to navigation and entertainment controls that wouldn't work. One Karma owner filed a complaint with federal highway safety officials that his car shut down suddenly while driving — leaving him with minimal steering and no brakes.
The Karma is powered by a 20-kWh battery pack paired with two electric motors good for 959 ft.-lbs. of torque. When the batteries run low, a 2-liter GM turbo engine kicks in to recharge the batteries and power the electric motors, a system similar to the Chevrolet Volt -- and one that, like the Volt, requires complex software to oversee.
Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher confirmed that the Karma sales had been halted temporarily while the company upgraded the control software. Fisker hasn't said how many of the Karmas it's delivered and sold so far.
"It's a fairly normal practice," Ormisher said. "If you have an issued with supplied software, you put a stop on the sale until it's sorted."
As for the founder calling customers, Ormisher said Henrik Fisker "is going to make sure the customers are happy, and they can communicate with him…the most important issue is quality of service."
Those may be some interesting phone calls.